Julian Casablancas and Passive-Aggressive Dick Moves

What can I say about an album by a band whose members admit they didn’t have fun recording it? Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi publicly declared that the process of recording Angles was “just awful.” I guess Valensi wasn’t a fan of vocalist Julian Casablancas’s emailing in his vocal tracks. Literally. Casablancas, who comes off as one of the most smug pricks in all of modern music in every interview I’ve ever read with him, claims that he remained deliberately distant in order to “force the initiative,” whatever the fuck that means. Casablancas, in an epic-level act of passive aggression, called this tactic “Operation Make Everyone Satisfied” and if that’s the way he likes to satisfy people, I sure as shit hope he never gets married.

So I’m not gonna mince words, kids: Angles sucks. It is, by a wide margin, the worst Strokes album and Julian Casablancas’s vocals are easily the weakest link on it. No one can blame the Strokes for wanting to expand beyond the sound of their first two albums (although I was listening to Is This It? and Room On Fire the other day and they’re both quite good, in my humble opinion), but when Casablancas reaches for the rafters vocally, as he does all over Angles, he becomes strident and irritating, a tone that he usually reserves for interviews.

It’s telling to me that the best (read: “only remotely listenable”) tracks on Angles would fit in just fine on the first two Strokes records (I find two songs on the album to be kind of okay: “Taken for a Fool” and the Billy Joel cover “Gratisfaction.”). But then I don’t think the Strokes were ever going to succeed at pushing their sound. The most notable thing about what Pitchfork calls That Strokes Sound to me is that they always sounded like they didn’t give a shit, and you don’t change that just by nicking some pseudo-reggae licks for horrible songs like “Machu Picchu.” The sonic textures are different, but it seems to me that the Strokes – especially Casablancas – have never cared less about what they’re doing.

Some of the songs have good bits (like the harmonies on “Under Cover of Darkness”), but most of them are shanked in the kidneys by Casablancas’s bloody terrible singing. “You’re So Right” is possibly the worst Strokes song ever and it doesn’t even have the most annoying vocal take on Angles. That dubious honor should probably go to “Two Kinds of Happiness” or “Games.” Casablancas is so wildly inconsistent on this album, that he manages to fuck up a lot of otherwise promising songs (the guitar on “Two Kinds of Happiness” is kind of like what the Edge would sound like if he were a guitar player and not a computer programmer).

Valensi has already said that the Strokes have a better album in them, but he’s also said he won’t do another album if the process is the same as it was for Angles. Honestly, I don’t know how he (and the rest of the band) didn’t just beat the living shit out of Julian Casablancas. Casablancas would have you believe that he was trying to democratize the process by keeping his distance; he was apparently worried that his radiant presence in the studio would lead the others to “wait for me to say something.” But he also says that Angles contains “a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t have done.” Look here, you spoiled, arrogant little shit: if you’re in a band, you’re in the fucking band. Your name is on the album and you’re part of what people are spending their goddamn money to hear. So you can try to let yourself off the hook by saying there’s stuff on this album that you “wouldn’t have done” but the fact remains that it is wall-to-wall stuff you definitely did fucking do. Asshole.

If I seem like I’m being a little hard on Julian Casablancas, it’s because I think he committed an all-time Dick Move in his approach to making Angles. If he really thought the other band members where ceding too much control to him in the studio, he should have fucking shown up and said so. If you can’t look your bandmates in the eyes and say, “Guys, I want you to have more input,” then you should tear your spine out and donate it to a needy child, because you’re better off being a jellyfish. Casablancas, whatever his motive, did the twenty-first century equivalent of literally phoning in his job. For those of you keeping score at home, his job is being a singer in an immensely popular rock band.

Imagine if I took the Casablancas Approach to my job working with people with disabilities. I would send a vaguely worded email to my boss saying something to the effect of “If I show up to work tomorrow, you’ll just expect me to push your wheelchair around and feed you and do all the stuff I normally do. You know, for my job. But I want our work together to be more democratic, so you push your chair a bit and I’ll just email you every so often to see how things are going. You’re welcome.” I’d be fired. And rightfully so.

It’s hard (read: “impossible”) for me to see what Casablancas thought he was going to accomplish here. If there’s a bunch of stuff on Angles that he wouldn’t have done, was his goal to let the other Strokes run buck-wild in the studio and churn out a shitty record so that they’d return to him, prodigal son style, and beg him to start calling all the shots again? And if that was his goal, doesn’t that make him a massive dickhole? Or does he think that, now that he did as little as he could to help them (short of not singing at all), he can return to the studio for Strokes Album Number Five and find a warm, democratic environment wherein he and his fellow Strokes can really work on songs as a single unit, politely debating the merits of every single song? Because it makes total sense that the other members of his band would understand fully and even pardon his near-nonparticipation in Angles if he just thought he was doing what was best for them. You know, so they could really grow together. that would still make him a massive dickhole.

As I usually do when writing about albums, I’ve read some of the other reviews of Angles and, while very few are gushy (this review tries way too hard to justify this album’s existence, but the writer is clearly a bigger Strokes fan than I am), I haven’t seen any yet that take as dim a view of the album as I do. Obviously, the Casablancas Approach to vocal recording galls me to no end, but the music matters the most to me and Angles is so infuriatingly inconsistent (nearly every good bit, save for two songs, is subverted by a shitty bit) that it’s impossible for me to recommend it. The band’s (and especially Casablancas’s) ambivalence toward the music is clearly evident and while their lead singer’s inherent dickishness might be to blame for that, we can blame the entire band for expecting us to pay for music about which they themselves don’t give much of a shit.

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29 thoughts on “Julian Casablancas and Passive-Aggressive Dick Moves

  1. Pingback: The Pains of Being Precious (Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire) « Bollocks!

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  3. A tip — if you hate the lead singer of a given band and still want to review their newest album, try – at least try – to make it a little less obvious in said review. Cause if not, you know, nobody will ever take you seriously.
    Also, what did he ever do to you, sleep with your girlfriend or something? Lol.
    Another thing, he’s been married for a few years now. Which leads me to another important thing when writing reviews – fact checking.

    • Thank you….you said everything I was thinking so now I don’t even have to say it. Kind of a “dick” article I think. He must not know much about Julian Casablancas…many facts wrong. :)I like the album and I’ve read many of his interviews and understand his point for wanting to step aside. They think he’s controlling, he stepped aside so that they would have more creative control and they didn’t like it. The fact is that Julian is the main talent and brains in this band. It isn’t a bad thing. Same thing happened in the Foo Fighters at one point. Has to be a hard process to get through. I give them all credit.

    • I don’t know how to comment up top but the truth is the strokes were under contract w their record label to churn out 5 or 6 and I remember that they were not pleased w having to make comedown machine & angles. Julian is a great person they all love him & were having problems as the Strokes with their label at the time.

  4. EASILY the best titled Bollocks! post yet. And, rather importantly, could it be that the lead singer’s penis itself might be passive-aggressive?

  5. Not only is Casablancas married but his wife gave birth to their first born child right when recording started, I’m sure that might’ve had a little to do with his absences from the studio.. on the scales of life I’d say being a better father might weigh heavier than being a better rock star

  6. I have actually met Julian a few times and he is a very kind an easy going guy. You make him out to be a Bono or Gallagher when he is far from it. He is happily married, with a baby boy who was born during the recording process so I’m sure that explains some of his absence. Julian wrote the first 3 albums pretty much by himself which I assume caused tension within the band and why it took them so long to release angles. This is the reason he backed off from recording because his extremely strong opinion often over-rules the rest of the band. Julian let them have their turn. You lose all credibility by repeatadly attacking Julian with false claims. Thank you, come again.

  7. Everyone seems very deeply concerned about the whole marriage thing, but no one pointed out that “Gratisfaction” is not, in fact, a Billy Joel cover.

  8. You need to get your facts straight, then re-write this review.

  9. its people like you that believe everything they read
    the media like to portray julian as a egotistical control-freak because it seems more interesting to the readers who need some sort of romanticised picture of a successful rock band
    he had done all of the song writing on the first 3 albums and so, naturally is going to be confused as to how to go about doing it any differently. Maybe he made a mistake, maybe it worked out for them, we’re all human.
    he gets all the shit in the press and is seen as the asshole which is completely unfair.
    fair enough if you don’t like the album but i just hope it your dislike of the music doesn’t stem from your huge exaggerated grudge on julian.
    so i think in the future, do some research before you slag off someone because of what you’ve read.
    i wouldn’t call this a review of angles i would call it a review of julian casablancas.

  10. Pingback: Jesus Christ Returns… to Bollocks! « Bollocks!

  11. YOU ARE A PIECE OF SHIT. I WANT TO KILL YOU. THIS REVIEW IS GROUNDLESS BULLSHIT. YOU BETTER NOT SLEEP TONIGHT, BECAUSE ME AND OTHER FANS ARE COMMING FOR YOU. YOU WILL DIE SOON.

    FUCK YOU. BURN IN HELL

    • You’re “COMMING” for me? I guess I should be worried, since I don’t know what that is. Also, I’m reporting your threat of violence to the authorities. Have a nice day.

  12. Pingback: “YOU WILL DIE SOON” « Bollocks!

  13. Although Casablancas is judged a little harshly in this article, I do agree with the author. Ultimately, Angles is somewhat of a let down. If it were The Strokes first album, its hard to believe that they would have ever become successful. Maybe the band should experiment elsewhere and venture back to their sound. That was, after all, what made The Strokes “The Strokes”.

  14. Just so you know.
    Julian was on tour for his solo album “phrasez for the young” when the strokes were making angles. I’m sure that’s why he wasn’t there most of the time.

  15. Even though I’m not quite as personally pissed off with Mr. Casablancas, I do agree that Angles is by far the most pointless Strokes album yet. And yes, that is not only but to quite some extent due Mr. Casablancas’ extremely indifferent, soulless, vapid singing. I hardly ever heard him do a worse job. On record, that is…

  16. ” I sure as shit hope he never gets married.” HE IS MARRIED DOOFUS

  17. Ummmmm well i would just like to say that this is bullshit. Jules is really cool and talented, and while its not their best, angles is a pretty fucking amazing album. you obviously have some weird issues and you are probably jealous of the strokes’ success and sexiness…..

  18. You bitch too damn much first of all. You ‘d make for an amazing proffessional BITCHY rambler if there were such a job. You posses the same inherent dickishness as you claim Casablancas has.

  19. I think the album was better if not just as good as all of the previous albums before it, I was a big fan of julians talking vocals a lot sounding like hes singing threw a megaphone they should definitely go back to that which is there roots. I like his hi singing the only thing I disliked about the album were the half as or half as catchy songs on the album such as 1. two kinds of happiness 2. call me back 3. gratifaction songs like that aren’t exciting for me same goes for all the time off comedown tho songs like life is simple and one way trigger blow these songs out of the water. The only thing wrong with the strokes is every song on the album isn’t good they got like 5 or 6 but 4 of them just flat out I can live without im always pressing skip u smell me?

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